Nowadays, we like to think airline recruiters hire new cabin crew based on their skills, experience, attitude and aptitude. In fact, most airlines have really robust hiring practices that use behavioural and competency based selection methods. The idea is to find the most qualified and suitable person for the job – someone who will perform well and be an asset to the airline.
This is especially true in North America and Europe where strict employment laws mean that airlines can’t discriminate against potential recruits – say, because of their age, gender, sexuality or nationality.
Of course, this isn’t true everywhere in the world. There have been horror stories of some Asian and Indian airlines using very discriminatory recruitment practices. The same can even be said of certain Middle East airlines like Saudia and Oman Air. Both carriers have a maximum age limit for new crew (about 30 years old) and frequently only look for expat, female cabin crew.
It’s a really sad state of affairs but fortunately, the Big Three Gulf airlines – Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways (collectively known as the ME3) don’t have such old fashioned recruitment procedures. Or, at least, that’s what they would have you believe.
Qatar Airways claims to have a non-discriminatory recruitment process
Publicly, the ME3 use the same hiring methods as the biggest European and American airlines – in fact, in many cases, they bring in European HR professionals to set up the business side of their cabin crew recruitment process. Again, the idea is to find the most qualified and suitable person for the job without letting any discrimination creep into the process.
And then you learn that actually, deep down, maybe the Persian Gulf carriers aren’t being quite so honest. It’s something that many people have long suspected but then the chief executive of Qatar Airways comes out and says something that confirms those suspicions.
“The average age of my cabin crew is only 26”
Now, admittedly, Akbar Al Baker is well known for saying things to get attention – but if you’ve ever tried yet failed to land a job at Qatar Airways (or any other Middle East airline for that matter) then you might be very interested to read what he’s said.
Speaking at a recent Question & Answer session following the airline’s inaugural Dublin flight, Baker answered a question about U.S. airlines and this is what he had to say:
“Wide seats, plenty of legroom, as well as award-winning service from our international cabin crew. By the way, the average age of my cabin crew is only 26 years, so there is no need for you to travel on this crap American carriers. You know you are always being served by grandmothers at American carriers.”
Who can watch the interview here:
This matters because Baker has a really tight reign over what happens at Qatar Airways. If he want’s something done a certain way, then it will be done that way – Including cabin crew recruitment.
Effectively, he’s saying that his airline prioritises youth over experience or even competence when looking for new cabin crew. Baker is claiming that good service equals youth. Something, we know is untrue. Although younger cabin crew might mean having a group of employees who will do exactly what is asked of them without question or comment.
Would honesty not be better?
None of this means that Qatar Airways doesn’t occasionally hire older cabin crew. We know it happens from time to time but we now know that younger candidates get preferential treatment. It also doesn’t mean that the airline discards crew when they get older – there are quite a few cabin crew at Qatar Airways who have had long and successful careers at the airline.
But why can’t Qatar Airways just be honest? Does the recruitment process have to be so opaque and mysterious? If the airline is looking only for young recruits then why don’t they just say that?
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.